In a modest, but comfortable house in East Akron, piano/keyboard player Kofi Boakye was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 19-year-old graduate of Akron Early College was in his living room, wearing a smart and simple black suit, complete with white shirt and black tie, quietly rocking some crazy piano-patterned socks. Boakye (pronounced Bo-ah-chey) was booked to talk with and play some music for the kids at his alma mater, Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts. But the gig was postponed due to Snowpocalypse 2019, so he’d have to wait to share his talent and almost-not-teenage wisdom with the students.

He was kind of bummed.

“I love Miller South," Boakye said, "just going back there and seeing my old teachers. That school means a lot to me. If it wasn’t for that school, I wouldn’t be doing this interview.”

Boakye has been performing in his hometown for much of his young life, at churches, schools, corporate events, area clubs and bars, plus a headlining gig at the Akron Civic Theatre in 2016. Now the proud son of a hardworking single mother is ready to take the next step: In August, he will begin his freshman year at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As with many prestigious things, attending one of the country's top music schools isn't cheap, and tuition for on-campus students for 2019-2020 runs more than $73,000. Boakye earned a scholarship for half of that, but paying for the remainder plus the cost of living in Boston requires another pile of money. With assistance from his financial planner, Boakye is trying to raise $20,000 of his own funds and ideally get the rest for year one through community support.

Boakye, with considerable help from friends, relatives, business associates and the many connections he’s cultivated, is holding a fundraising concert and documentary screening Thursday at Tangier in Akron. The short documentary “Kofi: Made In Akron” was produced with the Pritt Entertainment Group, creator of the Emmy-nominated “#WhyNotAkron” promotional video for which Boakye produced the soundtrack and the song “Made in Akron.”

In addition to the film, there will be a Q&A session, and he will perform a trio set during a cocktail hour, which will include a raffle of baskets and other items. Tickets range from $50 for general admission to $85 for the pre-show VIP reception, and there are levels of sponsorship from $250 (eighth note) to $5,000 (whole note).

Though the documentary is ostensibly about Boakye’s journey, he hopes it has a more universal resonance.

“It’s a film that gives the idea of never giving up, the idea of 'Hey, if he did it, I can do it.' It’s an inspirational film,” he said.

But for now, Boakye sits in his living room surrounded by a weathered analog piano, his first instrument, adorned with some photos and his two CDs, “Made in Akron” and “Favor.” Next to the old instrument is an electronic Hammond B3 organ and near that is a fancy Yamaha MOXF8 synthesizer, all three of which were given to him by folks who want to help him succeed. On the other side of the room sits a dining room table with a stack of empty wicker baskets, waiting for a team of cousins and friends who are coming over later to stuff them with raffle-worthy items for the big night.

“I’m blessed, man. I got a group of people that believe in me, but it wouldn’t have happened without me working hard,” he said.

Help from friends

Besides his prowess on the keyboard, Boakye also has a talent for making and cultivating connections, many of which are pitching in to help “the other kid from Akron” live his dream.

Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, and Getta Kutuchief, outreach and education coordinator at Summit County Juvenile Court, are among the folks who wanted to help, and they were instrumental in getting Tangier on board and helping him figure out how to close the funding gaps for school.

“They're just a really wonderful family with really hardworking kids,” said Mullet, who met them through Boakye’s older brother Kwame (he also has a brother Andre) during her stint at the University of Akron. “Kofi, in addition to being the little brother, has always stood out for his passion for his craft but also for his academics. He’s just one of those kids who does everything right."

“He’s just one of those young men you just want to help. He’s somebody who can continue to put Akron on the map for the arts and I’m just incredibly proud of him,” she said, admitting her soft spot for hardworking hometown young people.

“He’s Akron, right? It’s what we do. He’s a good kid and he’s working hard and he’s doing the right things. He’s been doing the heavy lifting and this is a small thing we can do to support him.”

For his part, Boakye has spent the last several months “super-focused” on making the event a success.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of people, but in order for this thing to be where it’s at right now — where people are talking about it in the community — has been an effort of me pushing it and saying, hey, this event has to be something because I got to go to school, man. If this event is a flop, then I can’t go to school, really. So that’s why I’m working so hard and I need the community support,” he said.

Reaching out

Boakye is getting support not only from local folks, including Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan, but also from people who don’t live here. After reading an article in Black Enterprise magazine about Dr. Maurice A. Stinnett, the vice president of diversity, inclusion and culture for the Brooklyn Nets, Boakye sent him an email (after checking with his mom, Carolyn Bland-Boakye, to see if it was a good idea) expressing his admiration and the inspiration he gained from Stinnett’s similar life story of growing up poor, black and fatherless in Ohio.

“He reminded me of myself just by reaching out. When I was a young man, if there was somebody who inspired me, I’d reach out and tell them, and I thought that was impressive that he had the courage to do that,” Stinnett said from his office in New York. “And I did some quick research to see that he was a young man of a notable reputation. And his personal story resonated with me growing up in a single-parent home and not having a relationship with my biological father, it just resonated with me.”

Coincidentally, Stinnett was the guest speaker at this year's Akron Urban League’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast. Stinnett not only invited Boakye to be his special guest at the event, but also encouraged attendees to do more than simply applaud, showing them the way by donating $1,000 to the cause.

"Too often what we do is pay lip service to young men and young women of color who have done extraordinary things despite their unfortunate circumstances, and I said to myself, 'I refuse to continue to be that guy who just says 'Atta boy, good job, that’s great,' ” Stinnett said.

“I’ve been in his shoes and there was nothing more disappointing than to have people tell me how great they thought I was or how proud there were of me, but to put no action behind those words. And even if it were a dollar or 50 cents, just to show in some way actionable that you really are supportive of what I’m trying to do. So that’s why I wanted to do that.”

Though he is mature beyond his years, Boakye knows he still has a lot to learn, and unlike many young men, he will determinedly seek out good advice and information from anywhere useful. Often, it’s direct, such as the time he used his job as an usher at the Akron Civic Theatre to corner veteran smooth jazz keyboardist Brian Culbertson and pepper him with questions about the business of music.

“I learned so much in that little 30 minutes. The information he gave me allowed me to plan the next 30 weeks and 30 months of my life,” Boakye said.

But even as he is getting ready to leave, he looks to another Akron export to help point him toward his own future.

“LeBron James has been able to create a platform of outreach and activism through bouncing a basketball and putting it into a net, essentially,” Boakye said of “the [most famous] kid from Akron.”

“He says it himself, that basketball is just the vehicle to get me into that room, and I realize that for right now, music is the vehicle that allows me into the room to meet these executives and business leaders. I have 'friends' that are political officials that I would’ve never known and they would never have cared to know me if I didn’t play the piano. And a lot of people take that as 'Aww, they only like me because I’m talented,' but I’m, like, 'No, they like me because I’m talented!' That’s a good thing,” he said laughing.

“So excited, man. I’m excited to see where this thing will take me.”

 

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.